When I was eight-years-old my mum gave up the fight and I lost my hair virginity to the ‘creamy crack,’ or chemical straightener called relaxer. At eight, my hair straightening addiction was born. I didn’t feel myself, presentable or glamorous unless I had straight hair, and until I was 37, I had very little to do with my own natural hair. I spent thousands having my hair straightened, blow dried with weekly hairstylists appointments. When I had money to burn, not having to even wash my hair was seen as good times.
I spent decades hating my hair, feeling cursed and wondering what was wrong with me, that I didn’t have hair that blew in the wind like my friends. I didn’t have beautiful ringlet curls like mixed heritage girls, which was the only “good textured” hair you saw on TV, I had what my mum called “bush” hair. The hair that broke off in combs and left me screaming in pain. My young bottom would go numb from sitting in the same position for hours, as my mother attempted to make me neat and presentable with disobedient cornrows and bunches.
There are no “hair police” but the world is governed by unwritten, invisible rules and I knew loud and clear my natural hair was the hair of slaves, servants, the kooky best friend and all the other negative stereotypes I was brought up with in the 80s. It’s an unspoken belief that many hold true today, that if you wanted to be successful, you have to ethnically cleanse your hair by making it straight.
This all changed when I became a mother in my 30s, to mixed heritage twin girls Ola and Adanna. I wanted to break the cycle and not pass down the negative noise that had polluted my head and spirit all my life. Their hair was a hot mess and by the time they were three years old, I was on social media relearning lost techniques, products and methods to care for their hair. When I say lost, I mean stolen. Hair is a huge part of identity and culture and with slavery the African traditions of sitting in a circle with grandmothers, aunties and mothers braiding and nourishing hair with natural ingredients like shea butter, coconut oils and handing down knowledge and love were lost.
As I learnt to bring my girls hair and curls to life, I realised what was so wrong with my own hair? So at 37 I slowly transitioned my straight processed hair to natural. I first stopped relaxing my hair and went for a mini big chop, cutting off the straight lengths of my hair. I then had my hair in box braids until I had a bit more length and felt comfortable to rock my tight coils. I had a brilliant stylist, Subrina Kidd, who guided me through my transition both mentally and physically with weekly deep nourishing treatments, teaching me to do twist-outs with lots of encouragement.
Changing my hair also required a mind shift. Many other black women would come up to me in the street and tell me how brave I was to have natural hair. I knew what they meant, as having my natural hair meant I was making myself look more ethnic and opening myself up to being followed around more in shops, bad service Pretty Woman style and soaking up people’s perceptions of me being probably poor, uneducated or out of control, which happens on almost a daily basis.
The more people see natural hair in the boardroom, in meetings, on red carpets and in the world, the more the stereotypes of textured hair being cool, funky or un-groomed will disappear.
The other day my seven-year-old daughter Ola, left a picture of me on my bedside table. It was of me with dark brown skin and tight short coils with a big smile on my face, looking powerful and glam. It made me tear up and filled my heart with pride to think ‘this is how my daughter sees me,’ when truth be told, it took 37 years to see myself like this. I hope I have broken the cycle and she like her twin sister can love themselves, curls and all.
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